Custom Apple GPU in iPhone X could pave way for Imagination lawsuit
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Among the major announcements from Apple at the launch of its iPhone X and iPhone 8 models was a small, but significant detail with regard to the latest development in its custom silicon. Apple's bespoke chip making capability has helped to ensure that its chips match or beat the best that Qualcomm has been able to produce over the past few years. However, it has often relied on Imagination Technologies GPUs to help give it a winning edge in mobile graphics performance. Until now.
You may recall that Apple and Imagination, once close partners, had a public break up earlier this year. Purportedly, the bust up had to do with the licensing fees that Apple has been paying Imagination to use its graphics technology in its custom A-series chips. In April this year, Imagination released a statement that Apple had advised the company that it would no longer be using its technology in shipping products in the coming 15 months to two years. So you can color us surprised to learn that the new Apple A11 Bionic SoC also packs in what Apple claims is its own custom tri-core GPU design. Apple says that its new GPU is good for a 30 percent performance improvement over the Apple customized version of the Imagination PowerVR GT7600 Plus GPU found in its A10 Fusion SoC.
In its April statement, Imagination made it clear that Apple had admitted to working on its own GPU solution in parallel to the work it was undertaking in collaboration with Imagination at the time. According to Imagination, Apple also indicated that it would not be paying Imagination any licensing fees in relation to its own GPUs. Imagination, however, countered that it would be "extremely challenging" for Apple to design an all-new GPU architecture from the ground up without infringing on Imagination's IP. Imagination also claims that it requested advice from Apple that would demonstrate that any custom GPU it produced would not impinge on Imagination's patents. Apple has allegedly refused to provide such advice.
Apple for its part responded to Imagination's statement claiming that the mobile GPU maker's claims are misleading, factually incorrect, and also get the timeline of events wrong. Apple also countered that Imagination had known for some time that Apple was planning on ending their relationship given that it had long been developing its own GPU tech. Potentially complicating matters for Apple, however, are reports that it has also hired away numerous Imagination Technologies engineers to help bolster its own GPU efforts.
The two companies are currently said to be in mediation talks with regard to licensing fees. However, the seemingly sudden switch to a custom Apple GPU in its A-series SoCs could see the end of mediation talks and the possible onset of litigation.